'Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity': Former CBRE exec Hamilton takes business development post at Canderel

Shawn Hamilton
Veteran Ottawa real estate executive Shawn Hamilton is Canderel's new VP of business development for the National Capital Region. Photo courtesy Shawn Hamilton

As it looks to make a bigger mark on the nation’s capital, real estate developer Canderel is turning to a guy who’s as Ottawa as it gets.

The Montreal-based firm is bringing veteran broker Shawn Hamilton on board to be its new vice-president of business development for the National Capital Region. 

Hamilton, who spent 16 years at CBRE Canada’s Ottawa office, including the last eight as managing director, started his new job on Monday.

After nearly three decades in the business, the 52-year-old University of Toronto graduate brings plenty of knowledge and experience to the post.

As a prominent member of several of the city’s leading business organizations, including BOMA Ottawa – where he’s currently serving a term as president – Hamilton comes by his enthusiasm for his hometown honestly.

His family’s roots in the region go back to the 1820s, when the future capital was still just a crude lumber settlement called Bytown. His great-great-grandfather, Robert Stewart, was a Liberal MP in the government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and his father Ian served for 30 years in the Canadian foreign service.  

"I come from a long line of Ottawa boosters. It’s in my bones."

“I come from a long line of Ottawa boosters,” says Hamilton. “It’s in my bones.”

Other than a brief stint at a Toronto brokerage two decades ago, Hamilton has spent his entire professional life in Ottawa. He loved his time at CBRE ​– “I like to say I’ve gone from world-class to world-class,” he says of his change of employers ​– but says he felt it was time for a new challenge and wanted to dip his feet into the development side of the business after spending his entire career in the brokerage space.

“We’ve got a lot of good landlords, but we are running shy on developers and people who will build buildings,” he says of the Ottawa real estate scene. 

“Canderel really has that agility to build buildings and will also act with the competence of an institutional landlord. So it’s a really nice sweet spot that we occupy.”

Hamilton says he has two key objectives in his new role. Job one is helping tenants in Canderel’s flagship Ottawa property, Constitution Square, adjust to life in a post-COVID world.

“We know we’ve got a strong asset, but the worst thing you can do is just bank on that and ride that in an ever-changing world,” he says of the three-tower, one-million-square-foot downtown office complex Canderel acquired with a consortium of investors in 2017

'Challenging all of our assumptions'

“We’re challenging all of our assumptions to make sure that we come out of this pandemic leading rather than reacting to what other people have done.”

His other priority will be tapping into his vast network of contacts in the business community to uncover new development opportunities for Canderel. The company is aiming to recapture its form of the 1980s and ’90s, when it built Constitution Square as well as a 150-acre business park in the heart of what is now the Kanata North tech hub.

“They have really had an impact on Ottawa’s skyline,” Hamilton says. “We’d like to be as big an influence on the city as we were during the last tech boom.”

Hamilton’s connection to the company actually goes all the way back to those heady days of the original dot-com era. 

He first got to know Jonathan Wener, now the firm’s chairman, in the 1990s, when Hamilton was a young broker at J.J. Barnicke who represented Nortel in lease negotiations with Canderel. CEO Brett Miller is a former CBRE colleague, while the firm’s Ottawa’s investment management leader, Oakley Semple, has been a friend for more than 25 years.

“It’s kind of like old homecoming week,” Hamilton says with a grin.

1.5M-square-foot Ottawa portfolio

One of Canada’s largest privately held real estate companies, Canderel owns and manages properties in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. 

In addition to holding a major stake in Constitution Square and serving as property manager of the complex, the developer also owns an eight-storey retirement residence across from Lansdowne Park in the Glebe and was part of a joint venture with Minto to construct UpperWest, a 25-storey, 175-unit condo project in Westboro.

Its current Ottawa portfolio consists of five residential and office properties totalling about 1.5 million square feet. 

Most recently, Canderel oversaw construction of discount retailer Giant Tiger’s new head office on Walkley Road. Hamilton says there are other irons in the fire, and he expects Canderel to become a bigger player in the city’s multi-residential, official and industrial sectors in the years to come.

“If everything we’re working on comes to light, it will be very exciting,” Hamilton says.

“The opportunity that came up at Canderel, coupled with what I think is going to be some real opportunities for growth and development in Ottawa post-pandemic, it just was a perfect storm at just the right time. For me, it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”